Concepts of love in Shakespeares Much Ado About Nothing

Term Paper, 1999

10 Pages

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2.1 Images
2.2 Don John’s conspiracy
2.3 Regret and repentance

3.1 Ironical fights and discontent
3.2 Conspiracy of love


Concepts of love in Shakespeare’s Much ado about nothing

1. Much ado about love?

I have to admit I was very biased when I first read Shakespeare ’s ‘Much ado about nothing’ because I already knew the film version by Kenneth Branagh which I admired for its romantic plot. Therefore, I had huge problems to get off the image produced by the film and to analyse the play objectively. Right now, having come to results, I wonder how Branagh came across his interpretation.

I found out this play is immensely critical and thus very ironical in presenting romances or the general theme: love.

We are presented two concepts of love. In the Hero - Claudio plot we come across a kind of love on first sight that goes together with a strong thought of enrichment. And on the other hand, there is the Beatrice - Benedick plot which presents a more complex story: how love, long ago turned into enmity, is recreated without the actually concerned people knowing it.

Therefore, I want to mention the article by Steven Rose about “Love and Self - Love in Much ado about Nothing”1 because it is the only article that I found coming up with an appropriate pattern for an analysis. Rose characterises the plot as a series of hearsayings. This means that people are mislead by things they are told or in some other way made to believe.

But I want to emphasise that my analysis of the play is independent from Rose’s pattern. About the other articles listed in the bibliography I have to say that I think them to be absolutely unsuitable for my purposes, and therefore I do not mention them at all.

As well as this, I did not discuss a whole group of characters and their purpose for the plot: the watch. For my analysis the watch had no purpose at all. I concentrated mainly on the four main characters in addition of their nearest fellows.

Concepts of love in Shakespeare’s Much ado about nothing

2.1 “That I love her I feel.” (Claudio: I, i, 210 )

When they meet in Messina it is the second time for Hero and Claudio that they see each other. About the first time we learn that Claudio was on his way to war. He liked her but would not have thought any more about her. Claudio can be described as an impetuous young man. His obsession up to now has been war and fighting. How should this ‘soldier’ suddenly have changed his mind and now be interested in a woman. Well, on the one hand it is more or less natural: a man seeks a woman, but on the other hand there is something he might be used to: prey. That he surely got in contact with during the war and that he now suspects in the form of Hero being Leonato ’s heir ( I, i, 149, 246 - 257 ). When asking his lord Don Pedro for help to woe for Hero, it becomes apparent that he, himself an unmarried man and a experienced soldier, quickly gets to know Claudio ’s intention ( I, i, 262 - 263, 269 - 270). And he promises to woe for Hero in Claudio ’s name. Nevertheless he is more experienced than his protégé not only in matters of fighting but in affairs of love, too. And as he is Claudio ’s liege, he knows that he will profit from this gain.

I don’t want to claim that Claudio and Don Pedro are unscrupulous villains, but actually they seem to prefer the financial aspects of this affair. Maybe they rather trust in money than in love.

And on the other hand Leonato is easily willing to give his daughter to Claudio. So far, I think, we have to see this marriage as a deal. Claudio ’s name and reputation for Leonato ’s property.

2.2 “How canst thou cross this marriage” ( II, ii, 7 )

This is the question Don John asks his companion in order to produce enmity between people he can not stand for different reasons.

“[...] it better fits my blood to be disdained

of all than to fashion a carriage to rob love of any. In

this, though I cannot be said to be a flattering honest

man, it must not be denied but I am a plain-dealing villain.” ( I, iii, 23 - 27 )

Concepts of love in Shakespeare’s Much ado about nothing

After all, he is a character of a very dark mood, generally egoistical, discontent and sad. But his anger especially refers to Claudio whom he calls a “young start-up” who is responsible for his overthrow ( I, iii, 57 - 58 ). Furthermore he is told by his companion Borachio that Claudio knows about the heritage that through marriage would fall in his hands ( I, iii, 47 ). What again, would enrich John’s brother Don Pedro whom he can not stand either. Therefore he is thinking about how to take revenge on Claudio. And he ends up with the idea to discredit Hero in order to thwart the marriage.

And as we see how easily Claudio is mislead into believing Hero ’s unfaithfulness shows that he is only interested in her heritage and her outer beauty. Actually, he does not really know her, especially not her inner beauty, and so he only believes in his image of her.

2.3 ”Sweet hero! Now thy image doth appear in the rare semblance that I loved it first.” ( IV, i, 238 - 239 )

This is just another phrase indicating a definite hypocrisy in Claudio ’s behaviour. The point is that discovering Hero ’s innocence, he has to pretend repentance to restore his and his lord’s reputation. Maybe he even feels a little bit of pity for the girl who ‘died’ because of his cruel accusation. But to me, it seems very odd that a soldier, who wanted to marry to gain somebody’s heritage may feel this strong emotion. I think that he is rather worried about his and his liege’s name being brought into disrepute.

But as a gentleman it obliges to him to repent. This, at least, becomes far more easier as he learns about Leonato ’s revenge upon him that he is supposed to marry Leonato ’s ‘niece’ who is not only the heir of Leonato but as well his brother’s (V, i, 274 - 277 ). This gives him an opportunity he didn’t even think of. And being told that this niece is somehow a copy of Hero, Claudio is as well ensured of her physical beauty so that he agrees to this revenge.

“ Your over-kindness doth wring tears from me!” ( V, i, 280 )

Concepts of love in Shakespeare’s Much ado about nothing

Again, in these lines we find Claudio ’s hypocrisy. How does he feel in this moment? Assumably he is surprised and confused. Furthermore, he must have had a hard time to hide his happiness about this new engagement. He expects a bitter revenge and is told to marry an equally beautiful girl which is even richer than the former one. But could it not be understandable if, thinking of the bigger prey he is about to gain by this marriage, he would doubt Leonato ’s respectability concerning the girl’s beauty? Maybe this is the reason why he wants to take a look at the bride before getting married ( V, iv, 55 ).

3.1 “Is it possible disdain should die while she hath such meet food to feed it as Signior Benedick?” ( I, i, 98 - 99 )

This is just one example how Beatrice and Benedick are passionately engaged in cynical fights which are always about the wittiest tongue and the last word. It is a competition in which they call each other names and even more. During each of their ‘conversations’, early in the play, they become meaner and meaner. But in spite of this very rough behaviour, even Beatrice ’s very first question emphasises her strong feelings for Benedick ( I, i, 25 ). And furthermore, the attraction between them can explicitly be seen as they try to be close to each other during the mask ball.

In the case of these two characters, we have to assume that they know each other for a long time ( I, i, 120). This is even the best explanation why they behave so cynically and embittered. And as Beatrice explains in her conversation with Don Pedro at the evening of the mask ball, she and Benedick once must have had very strong feelings for each other.

“ - You have lost the heart of Signior Benedick.” “Indeed, my lord, he lent it me a while, and I gave him use for it: a double heart for his single one; marry, once before he won it of me with false dice, therefore your grace may well say I have lost it.” ( II, i, 245 - 249 )

By these lines, cynically uttered by Beatrice, it becomes clear that they once have been in love but that something has happened that hindered their relationship. But although both of them behave like being belied by love (Beatrice: II, i, 283 -284; Benedick: I, i, 198 - 205 ), they cope with it differently. Thus, Beatrice ’s anger is not about men in general, but only results from being disappointed by Benedick. He is the one who broke off their romance. Of this guilt he is certainly aware. His behaviour is only a disguise to not have to admit and repent. I am sure this is the reason why he talks bad about women in general: like this, he pretends a deep abhorrence towards women ( I, i, 140, 199 - 205; II, iii 23 - 30 ). In contrast to Beatrice who utters her anger favourably in company of many people, Benedick rather talks about it either in soliloquies or to his best companion Claudio and his lord Don Pedro.

3.2 “for we are the only love-gods” (Don Pedro: II, ii, 343 )

Actually the plan to make Beatrice and Benedick fall in love with each other is suggested by Don Pedro at the end of the mask ball in order to shorten the time until the wedding of Hero and Claudio shall be held ( II, i, 319 - 328). Although to him and his friends it does not seem possible that these quarrelsome fellows really could become a serious pair (II, i, 308 - 311), they take the challenge and the joy to trick them into ‘love’. For them it is a game, fitting to the at this time still joyful and eased atmosphere. It is a party game like the mask ball. But nevertheless, you could impute Don Pedro that he is sure about making the two fall in love because he knows as well of the romance between them as of Benedick ’s exaggerated behaviour.

Thus, the actual plan to trick them into love is very easy and clever at the same time: independent from each other, Benedick and Beatrice are led to listen to a conversation by accident. They are supposed to hear their friends talk about how desperately the one of them is in love with the other but at the same time fearing to admit it. Furthermore, they hear their friends judging them as cold-hearted and ignorant persons. The combination of these two statements produces the base for Benedick and Beatrice avowal. The conspiracy works as planned. They believe the other to be in love with them2, repenting having been so scornful.

From this time on, they consciously change their behave in regard to please the other. But their love is tested once more. When Hero is slandered by Claudio, Beatrice would take revenge on him but she can not because she is not a man. Therefore she wants Benedick to do this job. He first do not agrees to fight a duel with his best companion, but then decides to obey his beloved. Here, we already see the power embodied in love, which will lead to the happy ending.

3.3 “A miracle! Here’s our own hands against our hearts”

At last, all ends well. Until the time of Claudio and Hero ’s ‘second’ wedding Benedick has changed his mind and will no more die a bachelor( II, iii, 220 - 223 ) and Beatrice says goodbye to her “maiden pride” (III, i, 109 ). Although now there are no barriers of scornful quarrels, he does not propose to her. Maybe he still feels a little bit confused of the changed situation. Nevertheless, he asks Leonato to be allowed to get married to her. But not till he stands in front of the altar, he asks her whether she would be in love with him. She denies and questions him the same. He denies, too ( V, iv, 74 - 83 ). The reason for this is probably the publicity their intimate love story suddenly - at least for their point of view - runs into. Of course they don’t know that they have been the most interesting topic of conversation for days. Once more they return to the patterns of their former behaviour, but this time only pretending them. And so far, there would not have been any progress in this affair, if Hero and Claudio had not interfered by presenting the sonnets written by Beatrice and Benedick. By this, they get to know that the development of their love has been observed and thus was public from the very beginning.

Then, still addicted to their old behaviour. Which demonstrates their cynical wit. They agree to take each other “for pity” respectively to “save [ the other’s ] life” ( V, iv, 93, 95 ).

4.” - there’s a double meaning in that” ( II, iii, 235)

So the play concludes with a happy ending: the two pairs of lovers both are united at last. But I will remember Benedick ’s quote which I took out of context here as a subtitle, as a kind of general theme of this play.

Nothing is really real, nothing is what it seems to be. Love is produced by images and people who obviously can not get along with each other can easily be tricked into love.

Life is neither as easy nor as difficult as it seems. There is always a certain ambiguity in between which allows troublous events to happen. But exactly this is what makes life so exciting: you never know what will be,

“for man is a giddy thing, and this is my conclusion. - “ ( Benedick: V, iv, 105 -106 )


Shakespeare, William: Much ado about nothing;

Philipp Reclam jun. GmbH & Co., Stuttgart; 1997

Cunningham, Dolora : Wonder and Love in the Romantic Comedy; Shakespeare - Quarterly; Washington, DC;

Autumn 1984, 35 : 3, 262 - 266

Lewalski, B. K. : Love, Appearance and Reality: Much Ado About Nothing;

SEL: Studies in English Literature, 1500 - 1900, Houston; TX 1968, 8, 235 - 251

Rose, Steven: Love and Self - Love in Much Ado About Nothing

Essays in Criticism: A Quarterly Journal of Literary Criticism; Oxford OX1 3PG; England 1970, 20, 143 - 50


1 Rose, Steven: Love and Self - Love in Much Ado About Nothing; in: Essays in Criticism: A Quarterly Journal of Literary Criticism; Oxford OX1 3PG; England 1970, 20, 143 - 50

2 This is exactly contrary to their earlier love situation which we do not know much about. 6

10 of 10 pages


Concepts of love in Shakespeares Much Ado About Nothing
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Concepts, Shakespeares, Much, About, Nothing, Introduction
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Steffen Buch (Author), 1999, Concepts of love in Shakespeares Much Ado About Nothing, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • guest on 9/11/2000


    Hallo Steffen,

    Ich studiere in essen auch Anglistik
    und schreibe im moment eine Hausarbeit über much ado..
    ich habe probleme dabei.
    Ich habe generell probleme mit hausarbeiten. wie schaffe ich es eine Hausarbeit zu schreiben ohne vom Buch wort für wort abzuschreiben?
    Ich kann mir das doch nicht aus den fingern ziehen oder?
    Ich würde mich freuen wenn du mir tipps geben köntest wie man am besten eine Hausarbeit schreibt. Vielleicht kannst du mir erzählen wie du deine Arbeit geschrieben hast.

    Viel Erfolg noch

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